Cheers and Jeers: Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh
The waning hours of September brought Tech fans welcome relief as Virginia Tech soundly defeated Pittsburgh 38-21 Saturday night to start 1-0 in ACC play and improve to 2-3 overall.
How about that for a pleasant surprise?
I didn't have particularly high expectations entering this game as the match-up felt a little off. The Hokies continue to battle injuries which forced personnel shifts along the offensive line and in the secondary for this game. When a team is ailing, the brutish and physical Panthers aren't who you want to see coming off the opposing bus.
And indeed, this was a hard-hitting game but it was Virginia Tech that imposed its will for the majority of the night. Both Tech's offense and defense were locked in, albeit with some notable momentary lapses. Still, it was a return to form of sorts and hopefully something to build on for this young team.
Insert Funny Drone Pun Here
Kyron Drones is good and improving quickly. He was incredibly efficient against Pitt only attempting 19 passes but completing 12 of them for 228 yards and three touchdowns. His two rushing touchdowns and ability to keep plays alive with his legs made the night a wild success and got Drones his first win as an FBS starting quarterback.
There's still room for improvement, but the impact of Drones leading the offense has been immense and it's clear he has a very high ceiling.
Perhaps my favorite play of the night came on his long touchdown pass to Jaylin Lane. Drones hung tough in the pocket against a blitz, knowing if he could wait long enough Lane was going to come wide open. Drones took a hit and made the throw, one of many nice tosses on the night.
Tech also did some nice things on designed rollouts and utilized the threat of a Drones run quite effectively in the passing game.
The Hokies have found something here in their new quarterback. The future is bright and the possibilities are endless as Drones grows and becomes more comfortable.
Tuten to the House
Bhayshul Tuten's toughness has been unquestioned since he put on pads in Blacksburg. He took that well-earned reputation to another level against Pitt. The Tech coaches got him just as many touches as they had hoped with 24 carries and four catches. He finished with 144 total yards and a nifty receiving touchdown.
He was literally dragging himself on and off the field at several points, but he just kept producing when given the ball. It was an epic effort and one to savor for Tech fans longing for the days of a dominant ground game.
Managing Tuten's workload is going to be an issue though. While the Hokie offense probably needs him to touch the ball 25 times a game, it seems unlikely that he can stay healthy at that pace.
An encouraging sign was the re-emergence of Malachi Thomas against PIttsburgh. To this point in 2023, Thomas has been relegated to grinding out two-yard gains directly into the backs of his offensive lineman. It was an alarming development after he burst on the scene with such promise last year as a freshman.
In this one he ran for 38 yards and looked like the player we saw a season ago. Both Thomas and Tuten looked great on Tech's quick toss play. That's a smart way to get the backs to the edge quicker. 25 first downs and 199 yards rushing as a team says, "This is the way".
This group was dominant against the run for the majority of the night and held firm against passes for the most part as well. The Hokies held Pitt to just 1.8 yards per run and 38 yards total on the ground.
Tech finished with four sacks and outside of two long touchdowns, Phil Jurkovec once again left Lane Stadium after being pestered for hours, frustrated and on the losing end of things.
But that's the glaring issue isn't it? The Hokie defense is really young, really talented, and boy when they miss...do they miss. That's to be expected especially with guys shifting positions to accommodate for injuries. I'm sure it drives coaches Marve and Pry mad though.
There's plenty to like from this group but there are some things to clean up.
Start of the Second Half
Tech began the third quarter with a 14-point lead and the football. What followed went about as poorly as it possibly could have for the Hokies.
It was an insane and terrifying couple of minutes. Peak college football and the kind of insanity only really tolerated by larger society on Saturday nights.
The Hokies righted the ship on both offense and defense after considerable lapses, but we were all painfully reminded of the slim margin for error this team has. We can all chuckle about it now, but recent outcomes brought on a bad case of, "The Fear" at that point. The lingering feeling of dread could have easily crept into the team's collective head as well, but kudos to them for not buying in.
This team seems to have a healthy mindset and has proven to be quite resilient.
No need to linger on negativity. This game left a wonderful and foreign feeling of gridiron fulfillment. A primetime game with a sellout crowd and a win have been a rare sight in recent years. It's a huge boost to the fanbase and team to have an exciting proof of concept like the Pitt game to point to.
It gets tougher from here with Florida State next on the docket, but that's a problem for next week. For now, it's nice to savor a victory over Pitt. The Panthers have beaten the Hokies handily three seasons in a row and in four of the last five. Frankly, the Panthers have owned Tech since the turn of the century. Personally, I can't stand stand Pat Narduzzi and his general vibe or that of his team's who play with all the aggression and precision of a loose sledgehammer. My dislike of him is rivaled only by his aversion to the concept of, 'inside voices'. I do respect his success though. Any win over that program is a good one and Brent Pry has something new to hang his hat on.
That goes for all the coaches, especially Tyler Bowen and Chris Marve. We've seen what can happen when the total picture comes together. It will be interesting to see what's possible with a little more health and experience. Hopefully, the former materializes before conference play fully takes off.